Friday, 27 January 2017

How to style up the perfect looking flat lay

Flat lays are hard to master, which is a shame because they're huge in the Instagram and blogging worlds now. The line between an amazing arrangement, and a messy one is very fine - which makes it even harder to get the perfect shot.
But the good news is, anyone can learn to take good flat lays. Sure, it might take some time to perfect your technique - me, for example, it's taken me over a year and I can finally say I'm happy with my flaying skills (I'm calling it flaying, like flat laying, because it sounds cool.) It took me ages though, and I still mess them up sometimes, but I've been asked by a couple of my friends if I can show them the 'technique'.

They say the word technique like it's some massive secret. Which it isn't. I'd say it's 40% good lighting, 30% in the editing and 30% composition (the way the products are laid out). This isn't some mathematical formula I've spent ages calculating - it's all pretty obvious stuff. If you take a photo in good lighting, it'll have a better looking quality to a snap taken in the dark. If you edit that good shot well, then it's likely to look even more fine-tuned, and if you can work out how to lay out products to show them off without making everything look cluttered - then you're basically there.

So why aren't more people doing it? Well, a lot of people are, and maybe the rest just assumed that it would be too tricky to even bother learning. But, my friends, it ain't. So I've drawn up a little cheat sheet for you on how to take really good lifestyle flat lays for your Instagram or blog.

The dos and don'ts to flaying

- DO take your snaps in natural daylight. You don't want lots of shadows or orange light.
-DO use a good quality camera. Personally, I will always use my Olympus Pen over my iPhone, because the quality always turns out better, and there's less of a grainy finish.
- DO take it from a height. Most good flat lays are taken from a height (think, standing on a chair), so that everything you need to get in the shot looks small and neat.
- DO look through other Instagram accounts for references. It's always good to see what others are doing and what's working for them. You'll get the hang of it quicker if you can study an image and work out why it looks so good.
-DO keep the background pretty simple. It doesn't have to be white, if that's not your thing, but you want whatever you're taking a photo of to stand out, and not get lost.

x DON'T overlap everything. You want some space between the products.
x DON'T over expose your photo in the editing stage. You'll want to lighten it a little bit, but not completely bleach out all those lovely products you laid out so nicely.
x DON'T take photos in weird lighting. I mentioned this above, but you want somewhere with natural daylight, not under spotlights or an energy saving bulb (the worst)
x DON'T just shove anything into the photo. Think about what colours work together, the shapes of them and what story you want to tell with your snap. For example, if it's a travel one before you go on holiday, then sunglasses, a nice passport holder and some pretty headphones all gel well together. 

Here's an example of the difference between a good flat lay and not so good ones...

The good

Let's examine what makes this a good one. It has a neutral background, which means all the items really stand out. The colours are all on a similar colour spectrum so the blend together nicely. They've been laid out so that you can see everything there, without them overlapping too much and looking messy. There's a little bit of blank space at the top and around the sides, which means it's been taken from a good height. Also, everything in the shot gives off an 'aspirational' feel, which is key in a flat lay - you're selling a lifestyle.

The not so good

This photo has been edited in the same way as the first shot, but something looks off, right? Let's examine. It's a little bit boring. It's lost some of those pretty rose products that made the first snap come to life. It's also a lot more zoomed in, with less room around the edges - which is making it look  a little less pro. I also took this on my phone camera, and the drop in lens quality makes this look a little more flat than the first snap. All-in-all, it looks dull in comparison, which really shows the importance of having a group of products that all fit together colour-wise.

And the bad

It's pretty obvious what's making this flat lay look worlds apart from the first picture. This was taken on my Olympus, like the first shot, but it still looks really dull - why? This is a good example of how a bad background can change the look of an image. The gold just doesn't work with the colour of the products I'm showing, and it doesn't look clean. The layout of the products is a little too placed, and they don't sit together well. Add in an unattractive pair of headphones, and it's giving off no kind of aspirational vibe. Again, it was edited in the same way as the other two, but because it didn't follow the dos above, it doesn't look professional at all.


I hope this has given you a little guidance in the world of flat lays, and I'll be doing another post soon on how I edit the flat lays I do (all the apps etc), in case you were wondering. I promise you, once you get the hang of the layout, the lighting and the editing tricks, you really will be a pro flat layer in no time!

Further reading

I mentioned in my dos and don'ts that it's a good idea to look through other accounts to get inspiration for your flat lays. Well, here are a few bloggers who I think have been killing their content on Instagram, so look at these for some serious flenvy (that doesn't work does it?)

* Marianna Hewitt
* Saasha Burns 
* Coffee & Seasons (a great one for any food and drink inspo)
* Lichipan (the queen of flat lays)
* ICovetThee 

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